Jackson County

Where is the oldest house on the Mississippi Coast?

A crew from Southern Miss was at the LaPointe–Krebs House in February 2016 to take core samples of some of the wood beams.
A crew from Southern Miss was at the LaPointe–Krebs House in February 2016 to take core samples of some of the wood beams. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

For Marks “Mc” Wixon, getting out of small-town Pascagoula was something he longed to do.

“All I wanted to do was get away,” he said.

He went off to Ole Miss and earned a degree in art history. Then he got a degree in arts administration at the University of New Orleans.

But his graduate work required an internship and he wound up right back in Pascagoula, working as a consultant for the LaPointe–Krebs House and Museum.

The pull was too strong. After all, his own father, a local historian and genealogist, had studied the historic old house. So was the call of history, one of his first loves.

“So here I am again,” Wixon said. “But before I leave here again — this time for good hopefully — this is something I can do that’s good for Pascagoula and it helps continue my dad’s local historian legacy.”

What better place for a history lover than the oldest structure in the Mississippi Valley, and one of only two French Colonial structures still standing in America?

After serving as a consultant and intern for five months, Wixon is now the LaPointe–Krebs Foundation’s executive director. He has spent two years helping renovate the hurricane-battered gem on the banks of Krebs Lake.

Wreathed in construction tape, its white walls chipped, its floor covered by brown sand, its timbers attacked by storms and termites, the old house just over the U.S. 90 bridge in Pascagoula may not look like much to passers-by.

But Wixon knows that after 2 1/2 centuries of time and tides — the latest tidal surge being Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — things are looking up for the house. Thanks to the foundation’s efforts and funding from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, its structural components were stabilized in 2015. That was Phase I of an extensive restoration process.

Now, Wixon said, “it’s standing better than it did 150 years ago.”

Next up is Phase II, which will strengthen the roof and restore the interior.

“It should take at least four years if everything goes as planned,” he said.

The estimated price tag to get it all done: $1 million to $2 million.

But it’s worth it, he said.

French roots

According to an analysis of the house’s ancient timbers done by University of Southern Mississippi professor Grant Harris, the building dates to 1757. It was built on the shore of Krebs Lake by Sieur Simon de la Pointe, a French Canadian admiral, after he obtained a land grant in the early 1700s from France.

Hugo Krebs, of German descent, married la Pointe’s daughter and later inherited the property. His descendants owned it until the 1930s, when they could no longer afford the decaying house and grounds. A local family bought it and gave it to Jackson County to be held in trust.

Once known as the Old Spanish Fort, it has remained intact since it was built. The name is a misnomer, Wixon said, that came along after the marriage of Hugo Krebs’ granddaughter to Don Enrique Ginarest, a commander in the Spanish Army.

The oldest parts of the house are the center and eastern wings, built in the 1750s or 1760s. Their construction used oyster-shell concrete and bousillage, a mixture of clay, grass and Spanish moss.

The old house was battered by hurricanes, most notably in 1969, when Category 5 Camille tore through the Coast, and later Katrina.

“We usually have a bad one every 100 years, staggered by 50,” Wixon said. “The ones in the mid-1800s were bad but not quite as bad as 1906 or Katrina.”

Katrina saturated the house’s timbers. It began deteriorating and sinking into the ground.

The stabilization taken care of, the structure is being strengthened to withstand another hurricane. That project will focus on the leveling of the western room of the three-room house, as well as the attic and roof.

Area residents are glad the house is being given a new lease on life, Wixon said. People appreciate what a treasure it is. The only other building in the region that can is claim such longevity is the old Old Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.

Education focus

Since the creation of the LaPointe–Krebs Foundation in 2011, president Liz Ford has been focusing on funding and restoring the museum.

“Once the renovation is finished, we will still be busy,” she said. “We also are working on an education program with fourth-grade students.”

Once a year, fourth-graders visit the house and museum on a tour of the property.

What once was a home to the Krebses’ 14 children and then to their descendants, surrounded by French and Spanish settlers, native tribes and freed slaves, may someday be a National Historic Landmark. That coveted status can’t be bestowed until the house’s renovation is complete.

Meanwhile, Robert P. Krebs, a fifth descendant of the Krebses, sees the restoration as just the latest proof of the resiliency of the people of Pascagoula.

“It’s a testament to the kind of people who were here from the outset — the Native Americans, the Spanish, African-Americans, and the Creoles.”

Ethel Mwedziwendira is part of a group of Ole Miss journalism students who spent a weekend on the Coast covering local stories for the Sun Herald.